The city’s only executive golf course has new owners, a new management team, and a new name.
But mostly, the Hickory Swing Golf Course hopes to present a new image to golfers who play the 18-hole facility on the West Side formerly called Emerald Greens.
Billy Thompson, who has excellent credentials as both a player and a greens superintendent, will be general manager of Hickory Swing. He’ll be working for local businessmen Mark Liggett and Dick Zadick, who bought the golf course recently at a sheriff’s auction for a reported $701,000.
The par-60 Emerald Greens course went through bankruptcy proceedings last year but remained open for play. Jerry Bass was the original developer of Emerald Greens and his son, Jonathan, managed the facility the last several years.
“I think there’s a big demand for a course like this,” said Thompson. “It’s a great place for kids to learn the game and for older people to play golf at an affordable price.
“We’re hoping to get the course back into shape and create a new image. We’re going to remodel the clubhouse and make lots of improvements.”
Thompson is only 30 years old, but has a wealth of experiences in the golf business. He worked on the greens crew at Eagle Falls for two years, then spent three years as superintendent at Gannon Ranch before that course became Zahara Valley. The 9-hole course southwest of town folded a few years ago, but when Thompson worked there, the greens were excellent.
As a player, Thompson has qualified for two United States Amateur tournaments, one U.S. Amateur Public Links event, and has competed in seven Montana Cup matches, which pit the state’s top pros against the best amateurs.
Thompson knows that the key to success in the executive course business is growing and mowing high-quality grass for greens and tees. Maintaining fairways and roughs is less important at a course that has 12 par-3 holes and six par-4s.
Thompson’s first hire at Hickory Swing was Rob Rowe, who has worked at both Gannon Ranch and Meadow Lark Country Club, and will report directly to the manager.
“The greens are actually in a little better shape than I thought they would be,” said Thompson, who played only occasionally at Emerald Greens for the past 15 years. “There are a few greens that are way too big for the length of the holes, and a few that need some work. We think there are some things we can do right away to make the greens better.”
League play has been a staple of the business at Emerald Greens, but the number of teams dropped off in recent years as course conditions deteriorated. Thompson hopes to expand the existing men’s and women’s leagues and to build a better junior program.
The course has a large driving range near the clubhouse, and he hopes to add a chipping area and putting green to the mix.
Most tournaments at Emerald Greens were playdays and charity fundraisers, and Thompson hopes to keep those going as well as adding events that would appeal to better golfers.
“There’s a lot we can do once we get the course in shape and make it a place where people want to play,” he said.
Thompson hopes to start the season at Hickory Swing on Saturday, March 12, a few days before Eagles Falls and Anaconda Hills are scheduled to open.
Keeping the executive course open is good news for all area golfers, whether they play at Hickory Swing or not. If the course had simply gone out of business, it would have put more pressure on the other three courses in town.
Thompson plans a daily-fee structure that’s quite affordable about a buck a hole plus membership costs that are well below public golf passes.
Competition is always good in golf, the sport and the business. Having local ownership plus a well-regarded manager like Thompson should produce a win-win situation for area golfers and the game we love.